Sen. Obama was in town tonight, and made a speech. He said:

“John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy -- cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota -- he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for."

Right here in Minnesota? Hardest hit by this economy? What is he talking about, exactly? Is this a specific reference to a specific plight faced by  specific towns, or a boilerplate remark about the dire lives of people trapped in the Bittervilles that dot the strange outlands?

Minnesota, like many states in the rich heartland, has a large farming economy, and if the farmers are struggling, it’s for reasons to complain. Between the demand for ethanol and the related boost in commodity prices, they’re doing well, thank you very much – and this spills over into the towns that service the farms. My paper is running stories about how the prairie chicken is imperiled, because land previously idled is being brought back into service to raise crops and make money. Which is like reading a story about subterranean bacteria threatened by all the drilling for oil in North Dakota and Montana. There’s good news in there somewhere, you suspect.

The other industry in these strange, CHUD-infested outlands is tourism, which may take a hit from high gas prices. So I’d ask the candidates – both of them, and our Senators as well – what they’ve done recently to increase the supply of gas. Domestically. What they did a few years ago to prepare for a day when prices spiked and supply contracted. I suspect that people would be complaining about drilling in North Dakota if they’d seen enough National Geographic-quality photos of Bison herds; given enough preparation, the empty lands of NoDak could have the same rep as Alaska, a virgin expanse no sensible person would pierce with the godless drill. But leave that aside for a moment: aside from the aquifer-sucking ethanol boom, Minnesota is doing quite well when it comes to renewable energy. We have companies that make ginormous wind-power blades. But they’re having problems, too:

For the Pipestone plant, success has brought its own problems.
The plant that was lured here by a slew of local and state incentives is struggling to keep up with demand. Its blades and nose cones are back-ordered for two years.

So Suzlon is turning its attention to working smarter. New equipment coming this fall will computerize Suzlon's manual fiberglass "skin" cutting process. A new crane will soon hoist and place blades onto trucks more quickly than crews.

For now though, the company is trying to cope with the headaches that come with rapid growth.

A shortage of rental housing and workers in Pipestone forced Suzlon to bus in employees from Worthington, Minn., and Sioux Falls, S.D., at a cost of nearly $50,000 a month. Turnover remains a big problem.

Yes, headaches aplenty in struggling Minnesota, the third-largest producer of wind power in the nation: back-ordered wind-power blades and not enough employees.

There are economic trouble-spots, of course; the cities have been hit by the subprime crisis, which has exposed government spending projections based on the endless fountain of real-estate tax revenue, and the condo boom guttered hard, hitting people who’d made speculative investments. Higher gas prices will hurt the core cities’ office markets, as they make suburban edge-city nodes look more attractive, and call into doubt the wisdom of spending a billion dollars linking Minneapolis / St. Paul with light rail when cheap flexible bus routes could help move core-city populations to and from the edge-city jobs.

What are the cures for the ills the state suffers in “this economy”? Cracking down on trade with other nations? As the aforementioned wind-power article notes, “Suzlon Energy Limited” is  “based in Mumbai, India, with operations in China, Russia, South Korea, Germany, Chicago and Pipestone.”  Good luck crafting a law that untangles that modern fact with deft precision. 

New taxes? New regulations? If the Senator returns to these blasted heaths in the future, he may want to visit the town of Fargo, which borders Minnesota. On the Minnesota side – higher taxes and more well-intentioned regulatory enthusiasms – there is a smallish city called Moorhead, founded about the same time as Fargo. On the North Dakota side, where less is taken for a variety of historical reasons, there is a much larger town that provides a far superior quality of life. The communities even seem to have organized themselves, against all logic.

Minnesota isn’t an old-line industrial rusty state dependant on the sale of smelting machinery, bolts and pistons. For heaven’s sake, this is the home of Pillsbury and General Mills – and have you looked at the price of Lucky Charms lately? But we’re all so comfy and happy we regard a few consecutive quarters of diminished growth as the equivalent of the Ambergris Panic of ’87, which closed two-thirds of all banks nationwide. Hardest hit, eh.

I know it was a shout-out for the locals, but really, dial it back a bit. Pick on someone else.


So we’re sitting in the kid’s dental office, waiting to be dentaled, and the DVD player is showing “Cars.” I am reminded how much I enjoyed the movie, and said “I’d like to see this again.”

“Dad,” my child says gently, “you are watching it again.”

She had a point. It was a day of such nudges. The most disconcerting came an hour later at Target, when I was standing up on a shelf trying to reach the solid-color square tissue boxes in the back. There’s no reason not to get the ones with designs, since they all go into decorative boxes that ruthlessly force the box to surrender its individuality for the theme of the room, but A) I hate most of the designs and wouldn’t want to see them when I open the cupboard that contains the boxes, and B) it looks nicer when you open the cupboard and the boxes form a nice solid wall.

Life is harder for the anal-retentive, but it has its rewards, too.

“You look like Scrooge,” she said, referring to a Christmas play at her cousin’s house a few years back. “With that coat and the grey hair.”

“Grey hair? It’s not all grey.”

“Uh, Dad? Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

Heh. Well, it’s not all grey, no matter what she says. I have a mild case of incipient Reed Richards Disease in the follicle area.  That’s not the point, though; I can tell I’m starting to be seen differently. OmniDad, the Ever-Present Doer of Things, is giving way slightly to “the larger older guy in the family.” I prefer it.

Earlier in the day her class had the Spring Recitation. Two classes, 55 kids: two hours of halting declamation.  For some reason she chose to do The Soldier’s Creed. There was Daddy’s Little Girl in BDUs and a helmet and an American flag, vowing to defeat America’s enemies in close combat and never leave a fallen comrade behind.

I didn’t put her up to this, in case you're wondering. Maybe this is just what comes from referring to soldiers in respectful terms.


It was in keeping with the general tone of the event, which was full of the old virtues – the presidents, the life of Helen Keller, a poem by Robert Frost, and a group recitation of the Bill of Rights led by a drill instructor. (Flash video; requires Flash. If you don't have Flash, you should get Flash. So you can see Flash videos.)

As you can tell, they’re a little unclear on the Third. Who isn’t?


I'm not sure my theme will be used, because it's too long by 16 seconds. Damn. Or, that's their gentle way of saying "nice try, but six French chefs say it sucks." Well, there's no reason it shouldn't have its moment in the harsh light of public scrutiny, so here's the Sports Theme, all 28 overlong seconds of it. I played everything except for a small repeating guitar chord.


Elsewhere on the site today: the Mpls project continues its overhaul, with the Rand Tower spiffed up and resized. I love this picture of the site before they put up the tower at the end of the 20s:

(These are details from the site, so I'm not spoiling anything.) Radio cleaners! As noted on the site - okay, I'm spoiling that - it was the twenties term for modern miracles. It's not as though they put the suits next to a crystal radio set and let some raving populist preacher shout the dirt out.

Here's a detail from the corner of Nicollet, around 1930:

Everyone's a blur but the old man and the kid. Maybe those are the two states in your life when things stand still now and then, and you have to pay heed. The kid seems to be hearing something, doesn't he? Not seeing, but hearing.

And there's this: a carving you might find in a museum in 2600 years.

Like the ancient civilizations, we had our mythological figures, too - except we actually figured out how to do the things usually reserved for gods.

More here. Enjoy, and I'll see you at!